The story of us: 5 Jewish museums that preserve our culture and history

    The Sephardic Legacy at The Contemporary Jewish Museum

    With our long history of surviving attempts to erase our culture and stories, Jews are understandably proud of our accomplishments and determined to never forget our past. There’s no better way to get in touch with the universal elements of Jewish culture, celebrate our shared stories, and honor those we have lost, than by visiting one of these great Jewish museums.

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    Photos of French deportees at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

    Museum of Jewish Heritage (New York, NY)

    With its motto “learning the past, confronting the present, educating the future,” New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage is committed to demonstrating the dangers of intolerance. The downtown building, designed by architecture firm Roche-Dinkeloo, features a pyramid-shaped structure, “a Living Memorial to the Holocaust.” The museum serves as a place of memory, bringing life to the stories of Holocaust survivors with recorded testimony and a core exhibition of more than 2,000 photos and 800 artifacts of Jewish Life from the 1880s through today. Organized chronologically, the material is divided into three main collections: Jewish Life a Century Ago, The War Against the Jews, and Jewish Renewal.

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    Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes’ multimedia installation for the museum’s lobby.

    The Jewish Museum (New York, NY)

    Housed in the Warberg Mansion along New York’s famed Museum Mile, The Jewish Museum is the first of its kind in the United States, and one of the oldest existing Jewish museums in the world. The museum maintains a unique collection of nearly 30,000 works “at the intersection of art and Jewish culture.” Programming includes rotating exhibits, family events, free admission days, lectures, and more. And if you should need a little nosh with your art, there’s even a Russ & Daughters on site. The museum also partners with the Film Society of Lincoln Center for the annual Jewish Film Festival, which will run this year from January 9-22.

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    You may have rushed through on a middle school class visit to Washington, DC, but this one is worth a second look, especially since it’s free. The museum is dedicated to helping people everywhere confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy. To better understand the Holocaust on a more personal scale, each visitor to the permanent collection receives an ID card detailing the life of an individual victim or survivor. In the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center, visitors can research their own family histories. The Museum’s oral history collection is one of the largest and most diverse resources for Holocaust testimonies in the world.

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    The Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco, CA)

    Located in San Francisco’s South of Market district (SoMa), the non-collecting Contemporary Jewish Museum presents expertly curated, constantly changing exhibits that capture the diversity and variety of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century. Among current exhibitions you’ll find Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress (featuring a hands-on Textile Lab), and Lew the Jew and His Circle: Origins of American Tattoo. Architecture is a big part of the draw here as well, as old and new mix boldly. The original building, a former substation built in 1881 appears pierced by the addition of Daniel Libeskind’s deconstructivist cube, completed in 2008.

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    Jews have a special part in the immigrant American dream, and this museum, located right on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, is devoted to the story of how Jewish immigrants came to the United States and became Jewish-Americans. Its purpose is to connect Jews more closely to their heritage and to inspire in visitors a greater appreciation for the diversity of the American Jewish experience. The core collection includes more than 30,000 artifacts; highlights can be found on their website. Upcoming special exhibits include The Art of Rube Goldberg and Sarah Berman’s Closet, an outdoor installation created by artist Maira Kalman and curator Alex Kalman to honor their grandmother.

    What are some of your favorite Jewish Museums?